editor’s note: I feel it essential to state before this review is read that I was under the weather for the screening and while I still believe my take on the movie to be accurate (or I wouldn’t publish it), my illness should still be noted.
With 2017’s “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle,” we got something of a continuation of the Robin Williams’ 1995 film, “Jumanji.” That is, it took place in the same world and explained how the board game from Williams’ entry, where the things (animals and the like) in the game entered the real world, became a video game which sucked people into it. Now, we’re getting “Jumanji: The Next Level,” a direct sequel to “Welcome to the Jungle” where the same real world people from “Welcome to the Jungle” find themselves sucked back into the video game, although on a new mission (maybe it’s just DLC).
So, for me, one of the big questions for a movie like “The Next Level” is how they possibly get the whole thing going. That is, if they’re bringing back the same real world cast (Alex Wolff, Morgan Turner, Madison Iseman, and Ser’Darius Blain), how do their characters, who barely survived the first time, actually get convinced to go back in. I get it, for most people that’s a small issue. Most don’t care what stupid thing they do, the point is to see their avatars—Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Mouse (Kevin Hart), Oberon (Jack Black), and Ruby (Karen Gillan)—dealing with new problems. But, I care about what occurs to bring them back into the game and so I can happily report that it actually, mostly, works.
Poor Spencer (Wolff) is unhappy with college life and feels small, so looking to be important and powerful once more, he reenters the game and his friends go in later to get him back. Except that it’s not all that easy – rather than everyone getting the same avatar and rather than Bethany (Iseman) actually getting into the game, Spencer’s grandfather, Eddie (Danny DeVito), and Eddie’s friend, Milo (Danny Glover), get sucked in with Martha (Turner) and Fridge (Blain).
The in-game Bravestone character is then being played by Eddie (not Spencer) and Mouse by Milo (not Fridge), with Bethany still as Ruby and Fridge as Oberon. This is where “Jumanji: The Next Level” finds much of its humor – it is largely The Rock and Hart hamming it up as the old men. Eventually, Awkwafina appears as another avatar, Ming, and Nick Jonas returns as Seaplane, and the jokes remain largely about the well known actors who are playing these avatars getting to offer up their interpretations of DeVito or Glover or whomever.
It isn’t exactly high brow humor, but The Rock swiveling his hips in admiration of the younger body Eddie now inhabits is funny, as is Eddie not being able to remember that he’s in a game. This is all slip on a banana peal humor, but there’s a reason that succeeds.
Without a doubt, as with “Welcome to the Jungle,” the plotting is sloppy, there are obvious twists, and bits that don’t work, but—again, as with the last one—by and large it does. The genius of this Jake Kasdan directed movie, the reason why it works, is the casting. Johnson, Awkwafina, Hart, Gillan, and Black are insanely charismatic. They allow for the full measure of their charisma to issue forth and the combined power of that makes this a very enjoyable movie to watch.
So, while it does matter to me how these people find themselves back in the game, far less important is the question of where the new character game from (again, I’m going with DLC) or some of the elements they encounter in the game world. Instead, by that point, I’m in. I’m loving rope bridges twisting in the air for no particular reason as mandrills attack. I even find the hints about the next movie totally acceptable and am super curious about the avatars’ role in that one.
“Jumanji: The Next Level” may not be great filmmaking, but it’s great fun and that’s enough.
photo credit: Sony Pictures